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Like the 1972 cult classic, director Simon West’s remake of The Mechanic centers on the relationships between fathers and sons, mentors and protégés. It’s perhaps fitting then that Irwin Winker and Robert Chartoff, who produced the original four decades ago, worked on the new version with their sons David Winkler and Bill Chartoff.
“It’s an honor because both my dad and Bob have made some really good movies,” David Winkler said during a recent press event. “To follow in their footsteps and try to keep that legacy going is a challenge, but it gives you something to strive for, and working with my father has been great.”
The Mechanic stars Jason Statham as Arthur Bishop — the role famously originated by Charles Bronson — an elite assassin with a strict code and professional detachment that’s made him the best in the business. But when his friend and mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) is murdered, he sets aside the rules to find the killer. But Bishop’s mission is complicated by Harry’s son (Ben Foster), who seeks to learn the trade so he can avenge his father.
The remake has been in development for close to 15 years, Irwin Winkler explained, with the script passing through several hands. “We probably had five or six screenwriters,” he said. “If you look at the budget of the film, the second-biggest item in the budget is screenplays that weren’t any good.”
David Winkler said resolving the longstanding issues with the script required producers to return to the source material.
“The irony is that we ultimately went back to the original screenplay as the inspiration,” he said. “All those other screenplays that we had over the years tried to make it larger and more action and bigger — and ultimately we realized, ‘You know what? Go back to the simplicity of the first one’.”
So eight weeks before production began, screenwriter Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) started working with West to update Lewis John Carlino’s 1972 script for modern audiences. “When Simon called me and asked me to come in and talk about this, the first thing we both said was we want to stick with the structure of the original,” Wenk said.
“So much so that the Writer’s Guild gave Lewis Carlino, who wrote the original, co-screenplay credit, which is really unusual because he didn’t write anything on this specific screenplay,” Irwin Winkler added.
Carlino, a director and screenwriter best known for the 1979 film The Great Santini, explained where the idea for The Mechanic orginated: “There was a period of my life when I just got really fascinated about the minds of criminals and how they operated, especially assassins — how they were able to deal with what they did and also live in the world and have relationships.”
The remake ratchets up the action and the pace while examining the psychology behind being a successful gun for hire.
“If you really do this for a living — kill people — you have to make them look like accidents. You’ve got to be smart,” Wenk said, adding, “The only other change that we talked about was making Ben Foster’s character a little more emotional.”
Finding a leading man able to follow in Charles Bronson’s footsteps was no easy task. Luckily, producers had early interest from Statham, who’s a fan of Bronson and the original film.
“Jason just has that quiet strength to him that Charles had,” David Winkler said. “Charles Bronson didn’t have to speak, and this is a man who’s very internal. I think this is his [Statham’s] best role, I think it’s the role that takes him from just being an action star to showing that there is this whole other thing going on behind the eyes.”
Part of what makes Statham so believable as Bishop is the extensive martial-arts training he undergoes regularly with a team of stunt professionals.
“The people that I train with, they have a skill and a knowledge in all of the martial arts, and it’s all put into a style that is appropriate for the situation and for the character that you’re playing,” Statham explained.
Foster, who plays Steve McKenna, apprentice to Statham’s methodical hit man, was aware of the original Mechanic and didn’t watch it before filming to avoid being consciously or subconsciously influenced by Jan-Michael Vincent’s performance.
“The feeling has been connect with it in your own way and you’ll make your own version,” said Foster, who received notice for The Messenger and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. “It will never live up to the original fan’s expectation, but it may be something different and be successful in its own way.”
When Foster discovered that Statham would be performing one of the movie’s most dangerous stunts — a 350-foot drop down a 30-story high-rise — he decided to join his co-star and take the plunge as well.
“I never thought Ben would do it and then I found out he’s got vertigo,” West said. “But it gets so macho on those sets, you know, like, ‘If someone’s jumping off it, we’re all jumping off it’.”
The Mechanic opens on Friday.
Come back on Wednesday for Spinoff Online’s interview with director Simon West.